Whether it's in class or on the wrestling mat, Connor Smith doesn't shy away from pressing his limits.
"I always try to push myself," the Chesterton senior said. "I like the fact that it doesn't come easy, that it's been a challenge. Wrestling's something I can better myself at. There's sort of a rush to going out on the mat, just you and the other guy. It's a whole different feel than any other team sport. There's nothing better than getting your hand raised at the end of a match."
Prior to high school, Smith had neither wrestled nor played football. He joined football as a freshman at the urging of two friends. Ironically, he wound up a two-year starter on the offensive line while his buddies quit. When Smith was in ninth grade, then-frosh football and wrestling assistant coach Tom Battista encouraged Smith to give wrestling a try.
"I was on the fence about it, and I couldn't be happier I did," Smith said. "It felt like a natural home to me. The suppport of the coaching staff is unparalleled compared to any other teams I've been on. The coaches not only care about you as a wrestler, they care about you as a person, too. I can talk to them about anything. It's a real welcoming environment."
With just one year of experience to his name, Smith filled a varsity void at 220 pounds as a sophomore and is now in his third season as a starter.
"He's really come a long way," said coach Chris Joll, who has Smith in his anatomy class. "Connor's always thirsting for knowledge, asking questions about how he can become better. He listens and does what we tell him to do and he does it with total conviction. He has incredible endurance."
Over time, conditioning has become Smith's forte. He was heavier as a sophomore but admittedly a little softer than he is now, able to handle the running regimen of the lighter wrestlers.
"I'm not necessarily the biggest or strongest guy," he said. "I have to play to my advantages."
Smith's junior season ended with a narrow loss in the Crown Point Regional, but the disappointment provided him with plenty of offseason fuel. On top of regular practices, he came in in the mornings to work with Keith Davison, a former Chesterton state champion and volunteer coach.
"The coaches have given me every opportunity to get better and it's something I had to take advantage of," Smith said. "If you're not getting better, then you're getting worse. I'm really excited for the season. I'm hoping all the work pays dividends. I'd like nothing more than to make it to Banker's Life Fieldhouse my senior year."
A 4.28 student, Smith was academic all-state last season. He plans to major in either biology or biochemistry in college, and hasn't ruled out sports.
"He's just a good, hard-working kid, smart, a team leader," Joll said. "He's going to go out and wrestle his toughest, not make excuses, and at the end of the day, he can be proud of what he's done."